Disposable Mentality Needs Re-Design

Michael Ciaglo and Dave Philipps recently published an amazing story, Disposable: Surge in discharges includes wounded soldiersfor the Colorado Springs Gazette. Amazing multimedia integration, heart-wrenching story, thorough documentation—just fantastic.

Reading the story got be thinking about videogame design—what would a FPS look like that begins with the IED blast, then tries to reintegrate a soldier (un/successfully) into society? Real people are being forced through this experience by the thousands; maybe a game could provide for a more comprehensive facilitation in terms of both societal reintegration (for military) and cultural reconstitution (for non-military).

It could be a FPS and RTS integrated system in which a player has the opportunity to analyze and affect the social and legal systems in place that create barriers to re-entry. The player should also have the ability to manipulate time—move forward and backwards—in order to experiment with different solutions and mechanisms.

 

 

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Obsessing with the idea of writing The Power Rangers into my research paper


Agency in Solitary Play (Pt. 3)

Note: This was written as a research paper for a class that focused on new media and video games. Consider this a rough-draft for a larger paper I would like to write on the concept of agency and gameplay.

Read Pt. 1 here; Pt. 2, here.

The individual is confronted with two types of video games, games that allow avatar customization, and games that do not. In the early years of game design, programmers were forced to rely on abstract representations of self to provide a significant level of agency in game; that preference for abstraction persists. The popularity of old games such as Pac-Man and Battlezone, and more contemporary games such as Minecraft and Super Meat Boy is a testament to the ability of abstract games to explore themes,

“of a greater inner unrest inspired in man by phenomena of the outside world.” (15)

For a player, “being” a spaceship, tank, or even a ping-pong paddle can provide a person with a sense of agency.

“In a specifically agential sense, [these] avatars reduplicate and render in visible form their player’s actions — they complete an arc of desire.” (16)

Abstract games provide agency to run when being chased, to fight when being attacked, and to rescue that which has been lost. Contemporary games borrow from this principle; they allow for players to explore representations of identity in increasingly greater detail.

While current in-game representations of the player are imperfect, games that simulate

“first-person perspectives, graphically sophisticated bodies, and camera movement suggesting corporeal presence [underscore] an obsessive concern with the avatar’s function as acting stand-in for the player.” (17)

Of the many boundaries that exist within games, the relationship between player and avatar has the largest effect on a player’s ability to reconstruct her identity in a game. (18) Abstraction aside, the individual longs for a sense of immersion and engagement — of deep play — to experience presence in her alternate reality. (19) The more closely an avatar resembles the player, the easier it is for players to subconsciously transfer concealed emotions to fictitious characters;

“While using an electronic medium in which subject and object, what is real and imagined, are not clearly separated, the player loses his identity, projecting himself inward, becoming the ‘other,’ and identifies with the character in the game.” (20)

The more we feel that we are our avatars, the more control we have over the game play. We are given rules and perimeters to follow; we are given objectives, and subsequently rewarded for completing them — this kind of agency gives us a semblance of control unobtainable IRL.21 To the individual,

“…avatars are not an escape from [the] ’self,’ they are, rather, a longed-for chance of expressing ourselves beyond physical limitations, they are a post-modern dream being materialized.” (22)

Avatars can more readily provide a reaffirmation of the self in ways that activities and exploration IRL might easily fall short. By extension, the exploration of the self in solitary game play allows the individual to explore themes and aspects of identity unavailable in either virtual or IRL social spaces,

“Online video games promoting widespread social play generate strict social hierarchies with strong normative guidelines, often only peripherally related to game goals. These hierarchical groups—guilds, fellowships, kin- ships, etc.—tend to restrict video game object-value relationships much as simulations do, and, as a result, either protect or prevent (depending on your point of view) individual players from fully accessing a video game aesthetic. If so, then the primary function of video game social play is to control and deny the experience of self.” (23)

Instead, the social extension of identity reaffirmation is best found repopulated online in the form of online game communities.

Online and offline, in game-specific communities, the individual can seek refuge (or experience rejection) with her avatar, that through play connects her to others who have share similar game experiences. How the game stimulates each player is inherently different (and ultimately, unimportant (24)), but this only helps create a more diverse online community. Ultimately, all communities are brought together through like-minded ideologies, shared interests or shared spaces; game communities function similarly. These communities manifest in many ways, including (but not limited to) online forums, wikis, IRL conventions, and collaborative blogs. (25) Online, the individual can be safely reaffirmed in her alternate identity, or she can extend her presence from the virtual world to the real one. If she meets others offline (IRL) she is affirmed more intensely, as her body and mind experience a merge of virtual and IRL identities. (26) Alternately, it is possible for her alternate identity to be rejected. Unfortunately, these experiences IRL are not frequently studied in psychological or sociological texts.

It is worth mentioning as a temporary aside that identity rejection in virtual spaces  is more frequently experienced by females and racial minorities by means of  discriminatory acts and hate speech, in-game. Such instances are just now being documented by web blogs such as fatuglyorslutty.com and Gambit, a project initiated by students at MIT. (27) In addition, the rejection of Jared Laughner, the man behind the recent shooting massacre in Tuscan, AZ, in online game communities was well documented by the Wall Street Journal and other game community members. (28) In terms of how identity rejection affects immersion, presence and agency in games, no definitive analysis has qualitatively tackled this. However, it is expressly obvious to this researcher, by means of watching videos and reading written accounts by players targeted by perpetrators of bias, that these interactions in game at the very least negatively affect the self-esteem of the player IRL.

Jane McGonigal’s recent book, Reality is Broken, attributes a lack of agency for the individual to an unsatisfactory reality; we feel disconnected because we are disconnected. However, she confines her understanding of experienced agency to the shortfalls of the industrial complex, and attributes the powers of agency in games to social gaming, or “games that do good.” This analysis of agency in creating happiness IRL is ultimately short-sighted. McGonigal’s poster game for social play, World of Warcraft, has both social and solitary play built into its framework. (29) Any analysis of game play that ignores or invalidates solitary play is ultimately ignoring the reality for many gamers: the individual can be pleasured in game without human interaction. To write off individual play as strictly entertainment, that might be classified much like reading a book or watching a film, also ignores the various levels of agency granted to the wary adventurer, looking in games for self-fulfillment, individual accomplishment, and identity exploration.

(15) Worringer, Wilhelm. 1953. Abstraction and empathy; a contribution to the psychology of style. New York: International Universities Press, 15.

(16) Bob Rehak, “Playing at Being,” in The Video Game Theory Reader, ed. Mark J.P. Wolf and Bernard Perron (New York: Routledge, 2003), 104.

(17) Alison McMahan, “A Method for Analyzing 3-D Video Games,” 69.

(18) Bob Rehak, “Playing at Being,” 104.

(19) Alison McMahan, “A Method for Analyzing 3-D Video Games,” 69.

(20) Miroslaw Filiciack, “Hyperidentities,” 91.

(21) McGonigal, Reality is broken: why games make us better and how they can change the world, 49-50.

(22) Miroslaw Filiciack, “Hyperidentities,” 100.

(23) David Myers, “The Video Game Aesthetic,” in The Video Game Theory Reader 2, ed. Mark J.P. Wolf and Bernard Perron (New York: Routledge, 2009), 57.

(24) Clive Fencott, “Presence and the content of Virtual Environments,” (1999). Available online at <http://web.onyxnet.co.uk/Fencott-onyxnet.co.uk/pres99/pres99.htm&gt;.

(25) Taylor, T. L. 2006. Play between worlds: exploring online game culture. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

(26) Taylor, Play between worlds: exploring online game culture, 1-20.

(27) Gambit. Gambit Hate Speech Project. http://gambit.mit.edu/projects/hatespeech.php.

(28) Alexandra Berzon, Jon R. Emshwiller, and Robert A. Guth, WSJ Online, “Postings of a Troubled Mind,” http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703791904576075851892478080.html (Janurary 11, 2011).

(29) I recommend checking out an analysis of how time is spent in WOW: Nicolas Ducheneaut, Terra Nova, “‘Alone Together’ in World of Warcraft?” http://terranova.blogs.com/terra_nova/2006/02/alone_together_.html.

Read Pt. 1 here; Pt. 2, here.

Bibliography

Fencott, Clive. “Presence and the content of Virtual Environments,” (1999). Available online at <http://web.onyxnet.co.uk/Fencott-onyxnet.co.uk/pres99/pres99.htm&gt;.

Filiciack, Miroslaw. “Hyperidentities,” in The Video Game Theory Reader, ed. Mark J.P. Wolf and Bernard Perron (New York: Routledge, 2003).

GAMBIT. Gambit Hate Speech Project. http://gambit.mit.edu/projects/hatespeech.php.

Grodal, Torben. “Stories for Eye, Ear, and Muscles: Video Games, Media, and Embodied Experiences,” in The Video Game Theory Reader, ed. Mark J.P. Wolf andBernard Perron (New York: Routledge, 2003).

McGonigal, Jane. 2011. Reality is broken: why games make us better and how they can change the world. New York: Penguin Press.

McMahan, Alison. “A Method for Analyzing 3-D Video Games,” in The Video Game Theory Reader, ed. Mark J.P. Wolf and Bernard Perron (New York: Routledge, 2003).

Myers, David. “The Video Game Aesthetic,” in The Video Game Theory Reader 2, ed. Mark J.P. Wolf and Bernard Perron (New York: Routledge, 2009).

Rehak, Bob. “Playing at Being,” in The Video Game Theory Reader, ed. Mark J.P. Wolf and Bernard Perron (New York: Routledge, 2003).

Stearns, Peter N. 2001. Consumerism in world history: the global transformation of desire. London: Routledge.

Taylor, T. L. 2006. Play between worlds: exploring online game culture. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Turkle, Sherry. 2011. Alone together: why we expect more from technology and less from each other. New York: Basic Books.

Worringer, Wilhelm. 1953. Abstraction and empathy; a contribution to the psychology of style. New York: International Universities Press.


Agency in Solitary Play (Pt. 1)

Note: This was written as a research paper for a class that focused on new media and video games. Consider this a rough-draft for a larger paper I would like to write on the concept of agency and gameplay.

The existential individual lives in an algorithmic reality. She is governed by rules. The context of her life is defined by social and physical barriers. This individual is guided by roadways and stairways, standardized tests, career paths, and media streams, to name a few. People in her physical environment define her by her occupation, her purchases, her extra curricular activities; she is only empowered to seek happiness through extrinsic rewards. (1) For her, life is less about living, and more about owning; she is encouraged to purchase that which defines her. Her agency, her capacity to act in the world, is provided through consumerism; she is restricted to live within the images of others. These artifacts construct her identity; they codified her, the consumer, with recognizable images and meanings. (2) With them she seeks like-minded peoples and communities, and she is, in part, accepted by others because she is a familiar artifact herself. But this catches the individual in a paradox; how can she be an individual when she is like everyone else? At the risk of being an outcast, she becomes what others want her to be. She role-plays, and society allows little else. (3) In real life, the individual is left with little agency to adventure outside ideas of the preconceived self, and the very notions of discrimination and racism verify this truth. Counter to the individual’s pursuit of liberty, she cannot be whoever she wants to be. She can only become someone society is familiar with, or else risk rejection from that society. So, how does she reconcile her identity? Reading literature and watching cinema, as agential experiences, has long provided her with various narratives to explore different themes;

“A stirring narrative in any medium can be experienced as a virtual reality because our brains are programmed to tune into stories with an intensity that can obliterate the world around us… The experience of being transported to an elaborately simulated place is pleasurable in itself, regardless of the fantasy content.” (4)

These mediums, however, are designed to be passive experiences; they are only a one-way transmission medium. (5) The level of immersion we derive from books and films is shallow, and they lack an interactive quality.  The individual cannot interact with characters on a screen or in a book, only observe. As a medium to explore identity, they fail to provide her with any real agency;

“The only necessary condition for experiencing ‘agency’ and interactivity is that our actions make a difference.” (6)

The only space that allows for such agency is virtual,

“Digital media, video games included, enable us — for the first time in history on such a scale — to manipulate our ‘selves’ and to multiply them indefinitely.” (7)

If reality is a depressing space, then this alternate reality is a play space. (8) A place the mind can wander under a cloak of anonymity. The existential individual can now escape from one game into another; virtual spaces and video games can provide alternate realities that allows greater freedom for her to explore aspects of identity and ideology that are difficult (if not impossible) to explore in real life.

Read Pt. 2 here.

(1) McGonigal, Jane. 2011. Reality is broken: why games make us better and how they can change the world. New York: Penguin Press, 47.

(2) Stearns, Peter N. 2001. Consumerism in world history: the global transformation of desire. London: Routledge.

(3) “Role-playing is one the [sic] social life’s basic elements, and is used in our everyday functioning.”
Miroslaw Filiciack, “Hyperidentities,” in The Video Game Theory Reader, ed. Mark J.P. Wolf and Bernard Perron (New York: Routledge, 2003), 92.

(4) Alison McMahan, “A Method for Analyzing 3-D Video Games,” in The Video Game Theory Reader, ed. Mark J.P. Wolf and Bernard Perron (New York: Routledge, 2003), 68.

(5) Torben Grodal, “Stories for Eye, Ear, and Muscles: Video Games, Media, and Embodied Experiences,” in The Video Game Theory Reader, ed. Mark J.P. Wolf and Bernard Perron (New York: Routledge, 2003), 142.

(6) Grodal, “Stories for Eye, Ear, and Muscles: Video Games, Media, and Embodied Experiences,” 142- 143.

(7) Miroslaw Filiciack, “Hyperidentities,” 88.